HOWELL – If drivers have found roadways in Howell to be more crowded and dangerous, it’s not simply their imagination. Statistics from the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) bear this out, as Americans have driven some 43.2 billion miles more in 2022 than in the same period in 2021, which is an increase of 2.8 percent.
While predictable contributing factors to accidents include impairment due to drugs or alcohol, excessive speed and aggressive driving, recent findings point to other factors.
A recent 2022 study conducted by Rowan University that had been funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and directed by the New Jersey Division of Highway Traffic Safety concluded that drivers in the Garden State are most often distracted by hand-held devices such as cell phones.
Locally, as part of their updated Master Plan, Howell Township reviewed their circulation element, which studies how traffic moves around the township.
“The town hasn’t looked at the circulation element in about thirty years,” said Township Planner Jennifer Beahm during the Planning Board’s Master Plan discussion in May. “Over the course of the past thirty years things in town have changed significantly and some sleepy roads have now become some major thoroughfares that warrant a re-look.”
As part of the plan, Howell turned to the residents themselves, inviting input from citizens on the township’s website where opinions were offered on roadways deemed as problematic. The observations, opinions, and commentary from residents were collected for approximately one month.
“We created and posted a survey on our website and we received over 600 responses,” said Director of Community Development Matthew Howard. Using those responses, the town then selected approximately 10 roadways/intersections to study, which were later incorporated into the Circulation Element of Howell’s Master Plan report.
In addition to the input from the public, the township looked at crash data and police reports between 2015 and 2020 to identify the roadways with the highest number of accidents, and car counters to determine some of the most heavily travelled streets.
Far and away, Route 9 led the list, with 1,908 total crashes, followed by Route 33 with 681 crashes. Not surprisingly, Interstate 195 came in third, with 464 accidents within the borders of Howell Township. The next highest totals come from county roads, specifically County Road 547 (356 accidents) and County Road 524 (290 accidents).
“Those are the predominant accident corridors within the township,” Beahm told the Planning Board. “It is very important to note that we have absolutely zero control over any of those roads.”
New Jersey’s Division of Highway Traffic Safety oversees the State and Community Highway Safety Program, which annually distributes nearly $20 million in federal funds to improve roadways in the Garden State. To that point, any changes or improvements deemed necessary such as possible widening or changes to the speed limits would need to be done by the State of New Jersey.
“We do not have any control over I-195,” said Howard. “We would work with the DOT [Department of Transportation] on any issues we have and we are willing partners in any necessary work.”
Rounding out the list of the top ten roadways were Lanes Mill Road (230 crashes), East Aldrich Road (205 accidents), County Road 549 (144 accidents), Fort Plains Road (105 accidents) and Newtons Corner Road, which recorded 101 accidents.
But these roadways aren’t solitary streets, and increased danger comes from the intersections associated with these roadways. Over the same 2015 to 2020 time period, the intersections that had the highest number of accidents include areas with which Howell residents have great familiarity.
“We are constantly looking at improvements throughout the Township,” noted Howard. “We are always evaluating the Township’s roadways and our Engineering Department puts together a Capital Improvement Plan every year. This plan commonly addresses road paving and similar improvements where needed.”
The well-travelled circle of Route 33 and Route 34 led the list with 84 total crashes, followed by nearby Route 33 and Tinton Falls Road with 76 accidents. After that, the wide, multi-lane intersection of Route 9 and Lanes Mill Road came in third with 59 crashes, followed by the intersection where County Road 547 meets 549, where 44 accidents were reported. Finally, Route 9 and its intersections with Aldrich Road (42) and West Farm Road (42) rounded out the list.
“The Township can work with the other agencies including the County and the State to try and improve the intersections,” said Howard. “Sometimes the improvements require a significant capital investment, so we can’t tackle every intersection, but we try and prioritize the areas most in need.”
Many streets in town are classified as major arterial roadways based upon the amount of average daily trips recorded on those streets, such as Maxim Southard Road and Newtons Corner Road. Others, such as Aldrich Road or Lanes Mill Road had previously been classified as “collector” roadways in past years, but based upon the recent car-counting studies done by Howell, they clearly rise to arterial roadway status today. As such, the township recognizes the need to address the rising traffic levels associated with these thoroughfares.
“There are a variety of traffic calming techniques that can vary in their level of effectiveness,” said Howard regarding finding solutions to this mounting issue. “Our professionals ensure all regulations and requirements are met when designing roadways improvements or reviewing proposed improvements by developers and we balance these options against what is practical and feasible for Howell specifically.”
But finding solutions to make roadways safer is not as easy as might be expected. For instance, while many would consider narrow roadways to be more dangerous or challenging than those that are wider, recent studies indicate that just the opposite may be true.
A World Resources Institute (wri.org) report in 2016 noted that “[f]or decades, transport engineers and planners have considered wider lanes safer, as they provided higher maneuvering space within the lane and were said to help prevent sideswipes among cars. Yet, in an urban setting, this means cars may go faster, and, when cars go faster, the likelihood of crashes and injuries increases.”
Consequently, bigger is not always better, and motorists may actually exercise additional care in tighter driving spaces. Narrower roadways also mean shorter distances for pedestrians as they cross a street, a fact worth noting as October was National Pedestrian Safety Month.